You’re traveling through a dark forest, the tree line swallows the sun, and you could have sworn you’d seen that tree before. Your ranger assures you that your party isn’t lost. The trek should have only taken an hour, why are you still here if you aren’t lost? You catch a glimpse of something moving between the elms in the distance. The party isn’t alone in this forest. Rustling in the underbrush grows louder and it’s almost upon you! Out of the darkness pounces a… a… there’s something there. Wait, let me check.
Has this ever happened to you? You’ve had an immersive environment, good buildup, and no idea what baddie to put in for the payoff! Worry not, we’ve got you covered with 13 forest monsters for your D&D campaign! We’ll be going over the following encounters to give your forest trek some panache:
Animated Tree/Ent – A classic fantasy creature, tree ents are generally seen as peaceful creatures but are known to get riled up if things threaten their forest.
The Forest Floor Itself – Have you ever heard of those massive fungus networks that span entire forest floors? A massive hive mind of a forest is sure to spook your players!
Coven of Hags – A collection of ladies hanging around the woods practicing dubious magics that may or may not be moral.
Will-O’-Wisps – These small flamelike spirits are mischievous and can either help guide adventurers or lead them astray.
Sacrificial Ritual – Classic dark machinations lead to a group of cultists doing the unthinkable, you must stop them!
Dragon in Disguise – Dragons can transmute themselves into a humanoid form, an encounter with an ancient being is always an interesting one!
Wandering Wraiths – Wraiths are dead souls tied to this plane because they have unfinished business. What could they be doing in the forest?
Werewolf Surprise – The full moon peeks through the canopy, and a howl emanates from deeper within the forest. The alpha is loose.
Lich on the Loose – Don’t throw a lich hellbent on killing against a party not expecting it! Instead, perhaps this lich is looking for allies or wants to make a deal.
Party at Odds – Sometimes the scariest monsters are among us. Does a party member have a suspicious secret that may come to light?
Wendigo – A horrifying creature originating from Native American folklore, wendigo are also known as skin walkers and possess a skillset perfect for hunting humanoids.
Cosmic Horrors – Horrid creatures from worlds beyond our own! These may be strange to have as one-off baddies, but can be part of a terrifying narrative.
Shambling Mound – These creatures are massive lumps of animated vegetation, and are not only resistant to lightning damage, but it heals them!
Because trees don’t usually, if ever, attack people on their own, there will have to be something going on to warrant this. Maybe a druid is angry, or there is some other dark magic afoot. Regardless, these lumbering behemoths can be a good challenge for a forest travelling party. If you would prefer to use the ent variety, a la Tolkien’s Treebeard, remember that an encounter with this kind of tree would require you to play an NPC! In that case, there should be something spurring on this being to fight. There could be different invaders in the forest – some reason for the ents going to war!
Mycology is neat! Some of the largest organisms in the world are fungi that span the entirety of forest floors. They are made up of many different chunks of mushrooms and moss, but all connected by a kind of neural network (it’s more like advanced electric shocks, but that’s neither here nor there!). This sounds a lot like D&D’s own fungus people: Myconids! A colony of myconids inhabiting the floors of this forest would pose a terrifying threat – the forest itself is out to kill the party for trespassing. In roleplaying this, keep in mind that myconids have a very literal psychic neural network they can tap into. If your party is using a lot of ranged attacks, maybe the next wave of myconids has crafted cover.
Coven of Hags
A group of fey-esque strong female hags would be a powerful encounter that doesn’t rely on just one creature. A coven of hags is a fantasy classic: think the Fates or even the Sleeping Beauty fairies. Being spellcasters, the group of hags would make for a very dynamic fight, especially if they’re being fought in their home. Hags are pretty wily creatures, so they’d definitely have a few tricks up their sleeves in the case of adventurers trying to hunt them down. You can also consider putting in other enemies to compliment the spellcasting prowess of hags, a creature to tank the big hits while the witches give the party stitches.
Will-o’-the-wisp, ignis fatuus, jack-o’-lantern, friar’s lantern, these critters are known by many names in folklore. The constant is their glowing nature, whisps of fire flitting in the forest. These elemental spirits are known to beguile adventurers into dangerous fates. A gathering of these tricky spirits can lead to interesting roleplay options for a party, as well as an encounter if they want to tussle with them, or perhaps if they follow the wisps.
Nihil! Nihil! Nihil! The party hears a rhythmic chanting from deeper within the forest. As they make their way towards it, they find themselves at the edge of a clearing with a circle of masked figures. Is the ritual in progress and they need to stop it? Or are they witnessing the final touches to this awful summoning circle? If you want a goal-based encounter, maybe the cultists are mere moments from finishing their ritual, so the party needs to dart around the circle and disrupt things. For a classic combat, the ritual could be completed and the party must destroy whatever thing has been summoned.
Dragon in Disguise
More than meets the eye! An old hermit living alone in the forest doesn’t seem too strange on its own. With a few nudges and some things out of place, a deeper story begins to develop. Why does this person not have any food in their home? The wildlife seems to stray away from this place. Why is there a hole filled with gold here? Once suspicions are placed on this loner, how does the party interact with them? Do they talk with the dragon, or are they quick to slice and dice their way through a perceived problem? The hermit may be understanding and not even try to fight back, knowing they’d kill the party instantly. Instead, they may try and reason with the party, threatening with their true form. If the party plays their cards right, they can end up with a powerful ally!
The forest itself is dangerous, and many have lost their lives within the dense trees. Of these who have perished, not all have passed on. Some have unfinished business among the land of the living – those whose pull back to the material world is so strong that they cannot leave become wraiths. Perhaps what pulls these spirits back to this world is of interest to the party! Are they a bunch of bleeding hearts who want to deliver a final message of love to the wraith’s loved one? Maybe the wraith was delivering a special item that was stolen by the very bandits that brought them to an untimely end? Or it’s possible that the party just wants to kill these things! However they deal with them, future travelers will be glad wraiths no longer haunt the roads.
And his hair was perfect! The party’s campsite each night has been plagued with howling in the distance, the smell of blood and fur, or scampering around the outskirts. They’ve been warned that creatures roam this forest, feasting on the flesh of weary travelers. How this plays out can depend on the ferocity of the werewolves, their numbers compared to the party, and the party’s level. It can be a tense horror situation if they are sufficiently low level or the pack of werewolves is large. Each night the party tries to disguise their tracks and their scents from the deadly pack of lycanthropes. If they’re high level, it’s a hunt for these ne’er-do-wells to ensure the forest is safe.
Lich on the Loose
In the same vein as the above dragon encounter, a lich is an immensely powerful being, so be careful throwing this at a trigger-happy party. At base, liches are challenge rating 21. This translates to a lich being a balanced encounter for a party of four level 21 characters (no, levels do NOT go over 20, liches are VERY dangerous). If you are expecting combat instead of a roleplay encounter, keep a few things in mind. It’s possible that the lich is weakened, as its phylactery is maybe destroyed, or it has just been reborn. The challenge could be finding the phylactery while avoiding the lich, resulting in a Resident Evil 2 kind of chase. Just remember that liches are inherently very intelligent and insanely strong, so play your lich accordingly.
Party at Odds
For a party interested in roleplay, there is no better chance for interparty conflict than being lost. Maybe the barbarian is mad because the ranger was supposed to have the lay of the land! The wizard’s scrying spell didn’t quite land them in the right location, so the rogue is livid. Only throw this kind of encounter in if your party likes to roleplay this kind of scenario. A combat-oriented party may not have nearly as much fun with this! Even if your party likes roleplay, ensure that they are comfortable with conflict within the party, because this could be a tough kind of situation to be in if you aren’t ready for it!
Wendigo are one of my favorite cryptid-type creatures. They’re also known as skinwalkers and have roots in Native American folklore. Wendigo are created when humans (or humanoids, in the D&D world) have to resort to cannibalism to survive. This horrid act warps the very being of the one who partakes, changing them into a grotesque powerful being. These terrors are mostly associated with winter and the cold, snowy forests. The party could happen upon an abandoned cabin with signs of previous occupants – little do they know this is the wendigo’s place of origin. As with any predator, the stalking of the party can be played up, blurs in bushes, the snapping of twigs, all these little things adding up to a feeling of being watched. Fun fact: wendigo are also adept at mimicry, so it’s up to your party to decide if that cry for help coming from the cave is a trap or not.
The vast terror of the infinity of the entire universe, placed conveniently in this forest the party needs to cross. Cosmic horror is difficult to do right in a single encounter. It should be a pervasive sense of dread, a feeling that things are not quite right on a grand scale. The twisting of these things unknowable may come to a head within the forest – the oldest trees holding secrets unheard for eons. The awful things that lie in wait can be anything from reflections of the party’s deepest held fears to denizens of the forest corrupted by whatever force from beyond knowing exists there.
These creatures are massive tangles of vegetation that trawl the forest floors, consuming anything in its way, be it plant, animal, or humanoid. They act purely on the instinct for survival and are only on the hunt for their next meal. One of the unique traits about shambling mounds is that they have an elemental absorption! Whenever lightning damage is dealt to a shambling mound, instead of taking that damage, they heal for that much. If your party is call lightning or lightning bolt trigger-happy, shambling mounds will put them in their place.
Here we have a few baddies that we like, but didn’t quite make the list!
Sorrowsworn are spooky enemies that each represent a longing. They each have unique effects that relate to what they yearn for – The Lonely prefers to be in a crowd and gets advantage when by creatures, The Angry gets advantage when they are attacked!
Trolls are always good fantasy monsters to throw into your world! Even if they aren’t under a bridge telling riddles, they’re sure to be a memorable encounter. Their regeneration makes them hearty opponents.
Sprites, pixies, and satyrs can be thrown into the mix if you are looking for a more whimsical, fey-type feel to your forest! Perhaps they herald a crossing over of the feywilds in this particular part of the forest.
Here are some related questions about D&D forest monsters
The go-to compendium for monsters in the D&D world is the Monster Manual! This has been supplemented through the years by books like Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons, Mordenkainen’s Monsters of the Mulitiverse, and even in campaign books such as Curse of Strahd.
D&D Forest Monster Folklore
The folklore of the monsters in your forest is entirely up to you! Maybe the wendigo in your world don’t quite follow the same description of origin as those in the Native American lore. Folktales and stories from cultures across the world are excellent to draw inspiration from. Pop culture is another solid option to glean ideas from, I’ve run a modified zombie as Jason Voorhees for a Halloween story arc!
How to Homebrew Your Own D&D Forest Monsters
I’d say “do whatever the heck you want” but that isn’t too helpful. A good starting place is always the stat blocks that are already in books. Storm giant’s electric abilities may translate to a massive robot that a mad scientist plugs himself into during a thunderstorm to go toe to toe with the party foiling his plans. Or, as mentioned previously, a zombie’s undead fortitude can represent a certain machete wielding slasher villain’s uncanny tenacity.
Dark Forest Encounters
In addition to the spookier options listed above, there’s always the option for a lighter twist on the dark forest trope. Perhaps the party comes across a travelling caravan or a carnival! Something like this would play on the expectations of the party to have some terrifying force in the forest, but in reality, it’s just a regular well-trodden path.
Haunted Forest Encounters
A classic ghost encounter is always a fun time for a table! Who doesn’t love an iconic lone cabin in the woods where things go bump in the night? It could be an entire haunted mansion for that matter. Make it the Overlook Hotel, where the party doesn’t even realize that they’re interacting with guests long passed on.
Forest Encounter Table
If you want to make an encounter table out of this article, just remove the encounter you think you’d have the least fun running and roll that d12! Or you can use other sites such as donjon to generate encounters, shops, and items for your party.
Wrapping Things Up
A forest can be home to many a classic fantasy trope! There’s a reason they stick around through the test of time: they’re neat! Any of these options are sure to slot right into your world. In the end, the only question is what you think would be ideal for you and your party! If your crew enjoys meticulous combat encounters, go for some pack hunting werewolves or some feral wendigos. Do they prefer role play? The dragon in disguise or dissent among us may be more their speed. It’s all up to you!